This past weekend was busier than most. Morgan and I journeyed to the University of South Carolina for Cherry Hill Seminary’s symposium Sacred Lands and Spiritual Landscapes. Beginning on Friday and running through Saturday, the symposium featured a keynote from Ronald Hutton as well as papers and responses from Pagan Studies notables like Chas Clifton and Wendy Griffin.
My feelings about Pagan Studies as an academic field are extremely mixed. Cherry Hill, as a seminary, produces work that is confessional. I feel like I spent the weekend mostly sitting through personal stories of divine experience and community building rather than things that would pass for scholarship in other circles. There was an awful lot of self-congratulatory talk regarding the establishment of a Pagan Studies group at the AAR (rather than any much-needed conversation on improving said group) and all of the new degrees that can be earned through Cherry Hill.
I don’t mean to sound so critical. This is a seminary, after all. The confessional has its place and I can appreciate the impact that an organization like Cherry Hill can have, but I worry that the confusion of this sort of theological work with the secular scholarship that is going on at universities and in other AAR groups will stymie Pagan Studies in the future. I wasn’t the only grad student present who participates in the Pagan Studies AAR group against the advice of advisors (on the grounds that this group is not, to paraphrase, engaging in critical scholarship). There needs to be a greater place for secular scholarship within Pagan Studies, performed by people with appropriate backgrounds in relevant fields. I left on Saturday, accompanied by my graduate colleagues, somewhat discouraged and disappointed with some of what we’d heard. It pleases me that this is now a field and there are other people interested (and in the throes of) pursuing this work, but we cannot only do it from the standpoint of practitioners. Rather, we cannot do it only from the standpoint of practitioners if we wish to interact with scholars in other field and be taken seriously.
But! Ronald Hutton was brilliant. And charming. And very British. I got a book signed, got to have a chat, and Morgan was kind enough to indulge my fangirl impulses and take a picture of Hutton and I together.
Sunday afternoon was spent reading tarot at Divination & Desserts, the local fundraiser for Pagan Pride Day. I worked last year, too, and this year was a marked improvement, due primarily to location. I’m not particularly involved in the public community in Charlotte (largely because, as you can see from the website, the community exists primarily outside of the city limits), but I do poke my head in periodically. I enjoy this kind of event. It’s laid back, there’s lots of time to chat and get to know people, and everyone is open-minded (I don’t have to do much in the way of explaining tarot to people who are completely unfamiliar). Plus drinks and dinner followed! Along with some intense conversation about building a stronger community here in Charlotte.